Avalanche 3, Sharks 1

By: AP
By: AP

The Sharks tried every offensive trick in their voluminous book during the final 80 seconds, pulling their goalie and pounding Colorado's Jose Theodore with a remarkable sustained fury.

Theodore and the Avalanche emerged without a scratch and with more proof their commitment to steady team defense is working while their more glamorous stars are sidelined.

Ben Guite and T.J. Hensick scored on graceful deflections and Theodore returned from injury to make 30 saves, leading the Avalanche's stellar defensive effort in a 3-1 victory Wednesday night.

Brett Clark's shots were redirected to score both early goals for the Avalanche, who split their four-game season series with San Jose by holding on through a one-sided third period.

Theodore, who missed Colorado's last three games with back spasms, needed several minutes to catch his breath after an uncommonly tough test in his comeback start.

''It's either humid in this building, or I'm out of shape,'' he said.

He looked quite ready for the challenge a few moments earlier. Though Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek all were on the verge of scoring in that exhilarating last-second barrage by the Sharks, Colorado survived and Jeff Finger added an empty-net goal in the final second.

''They came at me pretty hard, so it was a good test for my back,'' Theodore said. ''It's hard to take those extra days off, but it was the smart thing to do. ... It's about finally playing the way I've always played in my career. When I was traded (from Montreal in March 2006), everybody knew I wasn't playing like I should. But with a lot of hard work, I'm getting to a level of being comfortable.''

Marleau scored and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 22 shots for the Sharks, whose three-game home winning streak ended. The Sharks had one of the NHL's worst home records for much of the year before getting on their longest roll of the season early in their six-game homestand.

Nabokov couldn't be blamed for either of the Avalanche's early goals, both of which resulted from the canny front-of-the-net play usually practiced by teammate Ryan Smyth, who's still out with a broken ankle. The Avalanche then relied on the smart two-way play that's kept them in the playoff race despite prolonged absences for their top three offensive stars: Smyth, Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny.

''They play really well in their own zone positionally, and they're really good with their sticks,'' Marleau said. ''That's the thing about having depth on a hockey club. They've got quite a few guys stepping up right now.''

Though Marleau and rookie Tomas Plihal produced more than their share of scoring chances on a line with Steve Bernier, San Jose's superior offensive talent never broke through Colorado's cagey defense.

Hensick scored the go-ahead goal 6 seconds into a power play in the second period, deflecting a shot by Clark. Hensick, a rookie who played in last month's AHL All-Star game, had two goals apiece in each of the Avalanche's previous two games, giving him six points in five games since returning from the minors.

''We're moving the puck well, entering the zone with speed and making smart (plays),'' Hensick said. ''They're a physical team, but we stayed with them, and Theodore played great.''

Guite scored midway through the first period with an artful redirection of another shot by Clark, but Marleau evened it early in the second with his 10th goal of a disappointing season, banging home a perfect cross-ice pass from defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh during a power play. Marleau has two goals in three games after getting just one in his previous 15 outings.

''Scoring first in this league is huge,'' Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. ''We got going in the second (period), but we could never get ahead of them. We controlled play in the last two-thirds and had all of the scoring chances, but their goalie came up huge when he needed to.''

Joe Thornton was hit in the face with a Colorado stick during the first period, but didn't miss much playing time after his bloody nose was fixed.

''He got a high stick in the face,'' Wilson said. ''The referee said it was accidental. ... I think (the referee) didn't see it, and then gave Joe an explanation.'' ^Notes:@ Stastny missed his ninth consecutive game after having his appendix removed, but the club's leading scorer is expected to return Saturday night in Vancouver. ... Scott Hannan, who left San Jose for a big-money free agent deal in Colorado last summer, wasn't booed as heavily as in the Avs' last trip to the Shark Tank. Hannan still is struggling with his new team, recording 14 points and a minus-10 rating in 55 games.


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